CAMBRIDGE, Ontario — Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole announced last month that national standards are coming for service dogs used to assist veterans with PTSD and other mental health conditions. He made the announcement at the National Service Dogs House and Training Centre after meeting with veterans and members of psychiatric service dog training organizations.
Service dogs provide critical therapy to veterans suffering from PTSD, proving a calming influence and instinctively know what to do in heightened moments of anxiety.
In recognition of their value, the Ministry has declared $500,000 will be used to fund the Psychiatric Service Dog Pilot Project. 50 canines will be paired with 50 veterans and all will utilize the new training standards for service dogs. Each dog will have a standard tag on their vests which should prevent the denial of entry to any premises.
The announcement of standardized training comes hot on the heels of several Canadian provinces calling for official ID cards for all service dogs. There are countless incidents both in Canada, and the United States, of service dogs being denied entry to establishments because patrons and staff don’t recognize them to be working dogs used by those with non-visible disabilities (PTSD, epilepsy alert, autism etc.).
A most recent incident in New Jersey left a decorated Army Veteran waiting on the street after his service dog, a Pit Bull named Tank, was denied by the driver to board the bus. Great misunderstanding lingers as to what a service dog looks like, with the Retriever seen as the most recognized “face”.
The breed of service dogs can vary, and their role is critical to the day-to-day management of their owners’ lives. It’s imperative that the general public be educated on these facts in order to avoid occasions of any service dog being denied entry.
Having an ID card, or official tag, will also help to reduce the instances of people fraudulently representing their dogs as working, with illegitimate doctors’ notes, or purchasing fake vests and certificates online.
Most recently, the Province of Nova Scotia has announced that they are working towards legislation that will promote understanding and acceptance of service dogs used in any capacity. The province of Alberta already has ID cards for all dogs, not just those used by the visually impaired and it’s promising to see other provinces following suit.
Many are calling for even more to be done, urging that an actual Service Dog Act be created, which would in fact be a giant step towards understanding, training standards, and acceptance.